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Tag: EMS

A Dangerous Distortion: Verizon’s Foray into Emergency Medical Services

There’s always been difference between “truth” and “marketing truth,” the former being the more stringent of the two.  The daily bombardment of media messaging plus occasional advertising extravaganzas (hello, Super Bowl!) has desensitized us to where consumers don’t mind the fine print that says “Do not try this at home,” “Professional driver on a closed course,” or “Screen images simulated.”  Many people appreciate that Minority Report was released before screens could be controlled with fingertips; and the Tricorder has taken decades to jump from Star Trek to the X Prize.

“Marketing truth” turns irresponsible when it opens up false expectations  – that is, when reality is conflated to the point that consumers can no longer distinguish between what is real and what “may be coming soon.”  Great, emotionally affective commercials can do that.  But emergencies – those critical moments when we feel life’s fragility  – are not when we should have to stop and ask “Can they really do that?”  This is precisely the burden presented by a variety of recent ads featuring Fire and EMS professionals, the most dangerous of which is produced by Verizon.  Verizon’s spot risks making the public think that EMS providers and firefighters currently have access to more advanced technology in the field than, by and large, they do.  The advertisement is disingenuous, which certain important facts flubbed for dramatic effect.  But that happens in the marketing world everyday—why should it be any different in the case of emergency medical services or health information technology?

Quite simply, because to do so risks inculcating in the public a false sense of comfort with the state of EMS technology today; and moreover—to those among us whom seek to bring long-overdue innovations to the industry—it risks the public asking, “Doesn’t this already exist?  We saw it on television, after all.”

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Legislative Pressures

As financial pressures impinge the health care system, the various players sometimes seek legislation to protect their interests.  I have heard of two such situations in Massachusetts, and I offer them for your consideration and your comments.

The first involves emergency ambulance service.  Earlier this year, several of the major insurers in the state stopped reimbursing out-of-network ambulance providers, and instead started to send the checks to patients who used those ambulances. Those ambulance companies now have to try to collect from people for payments, and they are losing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

(This only relates to emergency calls, not routine transfers. For routine transfers, ambulance providers already agreed to be reimbursed at agreed-upon rates with insurers and municipalities.)

I can understand why the insurers want to use lower cost ambulance services, but I have trouble imagining a more cruel thing than approaching a patient or a patient’s family after an emergency situation (which perhaps led to long-lasting disability or death) to collect funds that the insurers have sent to the family.  It is also inherently inefficient and adds costs if the ambulance companies have to try collect funds from hundreds of individual patients rather than the few insurance companies.

Rep. Jim Cantwell of Marshfield has filed a bill to force insurers to pay EMS providers, and it has a cost-control provision that would give ultimate rate-setting power to local selectmen.  The Fire Chiefs Association, Massachusetts Municipal Association and Massachusetts Hospital Association support this bill.  This sounds like one that, in legislative parlance, “ought to pass.”

Then there is a proposal that comes out of the growth of tiered networks, in which insurers charge higher co-pays or otherwise limit coverage to patients who choose higher cost providers.  Well, it turns out that some of those high-cost providers are seeking legislation that would require insurers to include them in the low-cost tier of the network.  The two fields at play are pediatrics and cancer care.  The providers’ argument is that they offer essential services not available at other providers, or that they offer similar services but at higher quality.Continue reading…

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